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Plague-carrying fleas found again in northern Arizona

(AP Photo/Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County)

PHOENIX — Fleas carrying the bubonic plague, also called the Black Death, have again been found in northern Arizona, officials said Friday.

The Coconino County Public Health Services Department said the plague-positive fleas were found on prairie dogs on near Doney Park, about 10 miles northeast of Flagstaff, and Red Lake, about 5 miles northeast of Williams.

The infection was contained, but health department spokesman Randy Phillips said people should keep an eye on rodent populations to monitor other potential outbreaks.

“If you notice that, in a certain area where there has always been an active prairie dog colony and all of a sudden they disappear, let us know,” he said. “We can see if there’s a problem attributable to plague.”

Phillips said people should avoid rodent-heavy areas when hiking, just to be sure.

“It’s really all about awareness and trying to limit your exposure to plague,” he said. “Fleas may be looking for a host. They could jump on your dog or on to your pants as you’re walking by an area.”

Humans can contract the plague either through a flea bite or contact with an infected animal. Outdoor cats are especially vulnerable.

Phillips said people who believe they may have been bitten by a flea should see a doctor.

The plague is endemic to northern Arizona and officials find either infected rodents or fleas nearly every year. The disease can survive long enough to be transmitted because of the cooler temperatures. It would not survive in hotter places, such as Phoenix.

Officials trap animals and test both them and fleas for plague during the summer months.

The bubonic plague ravaged Europe in the 14th century, killing 25 million people in five years.

Symptoms — such as fever, weakness, nausea and swelling of lymph glands — generally appear between two and six days after humans are exposed to the plague. The disease can be cured with antibiotics if diagnosed and treated early.

KTAR News’ Atlan Hassard and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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